Some outings are better if you go with someone else. Dining out on Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve, for example. I don’t know of anyone who would be comfortable as a solo diner in the midst of romantic-themed menus or couples kissing over champagne. I wouldn’t, in any case.
On the other hand, some outings are delightful—even, dare I say, preferable—alone. Consider, for example, my plans for this past Friday night, when I scored an orchestra seat—second row, slightly off the aisle—for a fabulous show at the historic Goodspeed Opera House.
The show was Because of Winn-Dixie, based on the award-winning book by Kate DiCamillo. On Thursday, a friend casually mentioned that she and her son had just seen the show and enjoyed it. I didn’t know the precise story, but I knew it involved a girl and a stray dog. I also knew that the dog in the show was trained by the inestimable Bill Berloni, who is well known for his commitment to using rescued animals in his work. Plus, I knew it was a story generally referred to as heart-warming; despite the indisputable effects of climate change, the one thing that does not seem to be getting warmer in the U.S. these days is the nation’s heart, so I was game for a feel-good show.
With no more thought, I logged into the Goodspeed’s website and discovered that there were very few seats available. Had I been trying to find a pair of tickets, I’d have been limited to the back of the orchestra or the second/back row of the balcony. Knowing nothing of the theater, I had no way of assessing how good (or not) those seats might be. But the truth is that it hadn’t even occurred to me to see if someone wanted to join me. Instead, I gleefully seized seat B111—second row of the orchestra, third seat from the left aisle.
The next evening, I headed down to East Haddam, to a beautiful old theater mere yards from the Connecticut River. I wandered along the walkways, snapping photos of the river and the bridge spanning it; I sat out front, reading in the mild summer air, until it was time to go in; I visited the beautiful bar where a kind gentleman in a blue jacket covered with pink flamingos poured me very generous serving of pinot grigio in my souvenir cup (which, because of its lid, I was free to take into the theater). I chatted with women waiting for the ladies’ room. I purchased Christmas gifts at the gift shop which is no more than a counter with shelves behind it and a tiny space for the salesperson; fortunately for the woman working there, she was quite trim, leading me to wonder what the ad for this position said (“Size 10s need not apply”?).
Then, I showed my ticket and squeezed into an elevator whose walls appeared to be lined with red velvet, and a tiny woman in a black vest, black pants, and proper white shirt whisked us up. The elevator doors opened directly into the theater, and there we were. There was even an actual orchestra pit where real musicians played—no prerecorded scores or synthesizers for this show.
The show was every bit as heartwarming as I’d been led to believe. Even though you could see the ending coming from a mile away, I got teary-eyed because it was that kind of story, with all sorts of reassurance about how our secrets divide us and how very different people—even those who’ve made mistakes—can come together. And, of course, there was that great big dog (hypoallergenic, the program assured us).
The first thing we saw when the stage lights came up was the dog–because let’s face it, anybody who would come to this show wanted to see the dog. So the dog sat still, looking at the audience; then, he got up and sauntered from one carefully placed piece of crumpled newspaper (the place was supposed to look messy) to another, picking up the treats hidden at each spot, after which he strolled off stage and the story began.
At the end of the show, I made my way down the narrow staircase from the orchestra to the main staircase, down the front steps and across the bridge to the parking lot. I drove home along winding country roads, perfectly content and, quite honestly, glad I’d gone alone.
Why, you ask, was this preferable to do alone? One reason is obvious: when you’re booking your ticket at the last minute and/or the show is popular, good single seats are infinitely easier to find.
Think about it. When a row in a theater or concert hall has an odd number of seats, there will likely be one seat left over after all the couples have made their purchases. Since most people who go to a performance with someone want to sit with that someone, it means they’ll have to look farther back in the house for a pair of seats together.
If, on the other hand, you’re going to the show solo, you’re likely to find excellent single tickets scattered throughout the venue, even at the last minute. Earlier this year, I scored a discounted front-row seat to a local theater’s production of Actually; at Christmas time last year, I picked up a second-row seat to another local theater’s popular production of A Christmas Carol. Both times, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision which, I’ve found, is another benefit to going solo: nobody else’s schedule matters. I feel like going; therefore, I go. If I want to see a show on a Thursday night, I can, and it doesn’t matter if you already have plans with your college roommate.
Another reason I was glad to go alone was that doing so freed me from the distraction of a companion. While it can be lovely to have someone to discuss the show with on the way home, the fact is that if I’d been focusing on the person accompanying me, I wouldn’t have paid as much attention to my surroundings in the moment. In a place like the Goodspeed, that would have been a loss.
I’ve long been a fan of going to movies alone. Going with a friend or a date can be enjoyable, but I’ve learned to choose my movie-going companions carefully. I’m from the “don’t talk to me during the show” school; the last thing I want is to sit with someone whose idea of a good time is to keep up a running (whispered) commentary throughout the movie. If you have something to say, do it after the lights come up. Then, I’ll be happy to dissect every detail of the sound editing and lighting and directing and everything else. Just wait until the credits roll, please.
Another excellent thing about going to the movies, theaters, and concerts alone is that it can be done on a whim. Last weekend, as I skimmed the Sunday paper, I noticed that a movie I’d wanted to see, Wild Rose, was only in one area theater. This is usually a sign that a movie will soon be gone from theaters, so it was decision time: see it at once, or wait until it’s streaming. I opted to go to the 5:00 show simply because it was already too late for the 2:00. As often seems to happen with the movies I enjoy, there weren’t a lot of people in the theater, meaning I had my pick of seats. (Recently, I went to that same theater to see All is True; when I walked in, the only other patrons were an older couple seated halfway up the bank of seats. I said, “I’m so sorry to intrude on your private showing,” we all laughed, and I settled in to my chosen spot.)
In the middle of writing this post, while checking a fact online, I stumbled upon the fact that it was the last day to purchase tickets to a local baseball game through Protectors of Animals, the marvelous animal shelter who gave me Buddy and Charlotte. With barely a moment’s thought, I purchased my ticket–the last one available in that section. I haven’t been to our new ball park, but now I can see it and enjoy the game while supporting a worthy cause.
Mind you, some people who attend with a companion would rather have good seats than sit side by side. Last fall, a friend and I went to the Kate to hear Livingston Taylor. When I looked at the available seats, I saw one in row C, another in row D (not directly behind, but near), and a couple pairs at the back. I hadn’t gone to a performance with this friend before, but she frequently attends the theater and concerts with various family members. She offered to take care of ordering the tickets. A few minutes later, she emailed me to say that she’d bought the ones in rows C and D—which was exactly what I would have chosen. We had dinner before the concert, drove down to Old Saybrook, enjoyed a marvelous show, and chatted about it on the way home. Perfect!
Long-time readers of this blog know that I’ve written before about experiences in solo dining, which are not always delightful. Going to a show or concert is different. When you go out to eat, it’s wise to bring reading material, because otherwise it’s just you and your entrée, and no matter how good the food, it’s probably not going to keep you fascinated throughout the meal. If you’ve gone to dinner with a friend or loved one, with any luck the conversation will be interesting. (That said, I’ve observed couples where one is fixated on their phone and the other is staring at their plate.) But when you attend a performance, your attention is on the stage or screen. As long as the person next to you isn’t doing something to distract you from the performance, it doesn’t matter whether you know them or not.
Sadly, many people miss shows and concerts they’d really like to see because they’re afraid to go alone. (In my experience, they rarely admit this; they’re much more likely to say, “I don’t like going alone.” I suspect it’s the same thing.) Maybe they’re new to singlehood; maybe the performance is in a dicey or unfamiliar location; maybe they just don’t know how to do it. To these people, I say, “Start slowly.” Go to a movie alone, preferably a matinee so you don’t have to walk across the parking lot alone at night afterward. When you enter the theater, stop and scan the room to see where you’d like to sit. Give yourself plenty of time and plenty of room. Remember that the other people who have paid for a ticket and popcorn are probably there for the same reason you are: to see this movie. (Some are there because their significant other dragged them; in these cases, the SO needs to learn about going out alone.)
Once you’re comfortable with the solo-movie experience, you can branch out. If a local theater is doing a show that interests you, go online to see what tickets are available. You may be very pleasantly surprised to see how many single seats are available in prime viewing spots. Snag one of those seats and mark your calendar. If you haven’t been to there before, take the time research things like transportation and parking so that you feel comfortable about traveling to and from the venue. (One friend likes to do a test-run ahead of time so she knows where she’s going.) On performance day, leave yourself extra time for travel and logistics; few things are more aggravating than worrying about being late for curtain because you can’t find parking. Many theaters and concert halls now allow you to purchase beverages and snacks and carry them to your seat, so you may want to factor that into your budget. (They generally don’t appreciate it when you bring your own.)
All these things you can do without worrying about what time your spouse gets off work and how late you’re going to be if her meeting runs long, or whether he’ll grumble about your decision to splurge on onsite parking and a glass of wine from the lobby bar, because it’s all your choice. The more often you venture out on your own, the more comfortable you’ll become with choosing your entertainment based simply on your personal preference rather than on who might be willing to go with you. For some people, adventuring solo comes naturally, but for others of us, it’s a skill we’ve learned because we’ve had to choose between going out alone or staying at home every night, and we’re not willing to miss out on life simply because we’re not part of a pair.
One other thing I should point out is this: even if you’re coupled or have a large and lively group of friends, it doesn’t mean you all have precisely identical tastes. You may love Yo-Yo Ma playing Elgar while your spouse says things like, “I don’t need to buy a ticket to a nap.” Or maybe your friends adore dark Irish tragedies and can’t imagine why you might want to see the bright, peppy revival of “Oklahoma.” The fact that they’re not interested shouldn’t stop you from going. On the contrary, you may find it preferable to go alone, because if there’s one thing guaranteed to eat into your enjoyment, it’s knowing that the grumpy person with whom you’re sharing an armrest is only there because you forced her to go. The last thing you’ll want when you come out of the theater gushing with excitement about that fabulous performance is to be met with a shrug and noncommittal “it was okay.” Better to go alone and bask in the glow of the experience without anybody dampening it.
Venturing out alone may take practice, but it’s absolutely a skill worth developing. Once you’ve mastered it, you’ll find yourself exploring all sorts of places and events you might otherwise have missed.
And you just might get one of those terrific single seats, right in front of the stage.